26 August 2017

Celebrating Book Week: 5 Ways to Encourage Young Readers

Most years I celebrate Book Week in Australia by dressing up in the most humorous book character outfit I can conjure up (usually hours before the school's costume parade). Never did I consider that one day others might dress as a character from a book I produced. While that may still be some time away (if ever), I can't believe this Book Week involves presenting my book, Noonie and the Missing Bone and facilitating workshops with eight grades of children, years 4-6. I hope my workshops give reluctant students (like my child-self) writing strategies the confidence they need to share their unique story and acknowledge their ability to create!

Casey dressed as Captain Underpants on Book Week 2014

Here's an article I produced for ASG, suggesting 5 ways parents can encourage reading from a young age. 

Happy Book Week 2017!

Hold a book in your hand and imagine it’s a toy box; like a collection of toys, each page stimulates the imagination and incites the reader to play and create. When you turn the cover, you lift off the lid and invite your child to peer inside. What will you grab out for them? How will you show them what it can do? Unlike most toys, young children need regular exposure to books and lots of guidance to maximise learning and enjoyment. By incorporating these five recommendations, you and your child will continually develop new skills and share a love of reading. 

The power of nostalgia 
It’s invigorating to watch someone in their element; like a chef in her own kitchen or a retiree tending to his garden. Children love nothing more than to see their parents enjoy themselves and to become part of the experience. One of the quickest ways to reignite your enthusiasm for reading is to spend a day at the library in the picture book section. Reacquaint yourself to old classics like Picasso the Green Tree Frog, Possum Magic and Hairy Maclary. Read them to your child and tell them what the book means to you. Who introduced you to the story? Did the characters have voices? The passion and energy you exude will make a lasting impression on your child and produce good feelings you’ll both want to recreate. 

Get playful 
I haven’t watched Playschool for two decades but I can still recall the lyrics of On the Ning Nang Nong (YouTube it right now if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Singing, dancing and dramatization of any description inject personality and liveliness. Use the words and illustrations to inspire impromptu performances and games. For example, you could sing an adaptation of Old Macdonald Had a Farm using animals featured in the story. Using character voices helps the story come alive and holds a young reader’s attention. 

Touchy feely 
When I was a child, I was fascinated by pop-up books such as How Many Bugs in a Box. I also loved books with small compartments containing bits and pieces I could take out and investigate. Now there are all sorts of tactile books available, made suitable for all ages. The soft books with built in finger puppets are brilliant, as are the alphabet books incorporating textured surfaces. Sight and sound are predominately engaged while reading, so the addition of touch alters the experience and gives the reader an opportunity to explore and learn in a different way. 

Check in 
Have you ever been talked at, rather than to? Think about how you felt in that moment. Remind yourself to read “with” your child, rather than “to”. Every now and then, stop on a page and admire it like you would a painting. Point to something you like and come up with an “I wonder” question to say aloud. Your child may be too young to respond, but you can encourage them to point, clap, copy sounds and/or focus on particular elements on the page. 

The never ending story 
Thinking about a book like a painting helps appreciate the depth of information one page can provide. The last page of the book doesn’t have to be the end. Turn back to your favourite page or a significant point in the story. Play guessing games by describing an element on the page your child must seek out like “I spy”. Write a commonly used word or character’s name on a scrap piece of paper and hand it to your child. Reread the story and have them hold up the paper each time they hear the word in the story; they can also locate it on the page by studying its letters. This strategy can be used when reading to several children by appointing each a different word to focus on. These simple games help children to tune in while the story is being read and consider aspects of the story in particular detail. 

Link it to their own experiences 
Our ability to comprehend what’s happening in a story is based off our lived experiences; so our brain refers to memories to make sense of the words and pictures on the page. You can help stimulate your child’s opinions and emotions towards characters and events by reminding them of similar past occurrences. Try posing questions to check for understanding and stimulate deep thinking; for example, on Page 6 of Noonie and the Missing Bone you could ask, “What have you seen [insert name]’s dog do in the garden?” 

My author bio and info about my book, Noonie and the Missing Bone 

Casey Hawkins is a young award-winning teacher, author and visual artist, who aspires to work with as many students as possible to boost their confidence and know-how in creative story telling. In 2016 she was awarded an ASG National Excellence in Teaching Award for her ability to engage the wider community. 

Casey is also the author of  Noonie and the Missing Bone.
As well as being a great story,  Noonie and the Missing Bone has also been designed to be used as a resource for parents and teachers to inspire children to write and illustrate their own short stories. It includes helpful story writing instructions and planning pages to assist students to develop their own wonderful short story. 
Visit www.nansluckyduck.com.au/noonie for more info. 

5 August 2017

Childhood Memories Thanks to Mum

Today marks my mum's 59th birthday. It's crazy to think she has been a mother for more than half her life; and to think most of those years were spent giving my brother and I the best life possible. What a legend. 

All week I've been contemplating how I can make her birthday special, the way she worked so hard to make each and every one of ours full of joy and wonder. 

I'm sure most of you can recall small acts of love and kindness undertaken by your parents which remain in your memory. Here are 10 things I recall Mum doing which still make me smile today.

1. Eggcellent Easter 

It's hard to say whether Christmas or Easter was more fun in our household. The day before Easter, we made nests for the Easter Bunny using Mum's lawn clippings. Come Easter morning, we'd wake up to find colourful hard-boiled eggs coated in decorative stickers. Even when we reached high school, Mum had us running around the house hunting for Easter eggs based on a series of riddles. One clue I still remember was "mini wave." We'd been searching for ages before one of us thought to check the microwave. Mum thought it was so clever she couldn't stop giggling.  

2. Midnight Rescue 

When I recall insistences of being sick as a child, smell becomes my dominant sense. I can still smell the eucalyptus rub Mum used to put on my chest whenever I had a stuffy nose. Unfortunately, I can also conjure up smells of chuck wafting from the laundry bucket she would bring to my bedside. I used to scream "Muuummmmmm" whenever it needed emptying, or my face towel got too warm or dry. If I'm honest, I used to shout out for everything, like if she'd forgot to bring me my warm milk, or left the light on in the hallway. 

3. Class Party Favourites

I loved bringing the notice home about our end of year class party. Mum would always ask what I wanted her to make. Most mums just bought whatever pack of chips were on sale at the supermarket the day before, but not my mum. She was a big believer in "everything in moderation," so she wasn't opposed to junk food. I always requested Chocolate Crackles, Honey Joys or Traffic Light Jelly. I loved watching Mum cut through the tri-coloured layers. When she finished, she'd hand me a slice and I'd marvel at it's translucency before taking a bite.   

4. Weird But Wonderful Pets

My brother and I were the "lucky kids" at primary school (some might use the term spoilt). We had the best marble collections, the rarest trading cards and the latest upgrades of Gameboy and Nintendo. I can't recall a time during primary school when we didn't have pets. We've had rabbits, budgies, blue tongue lizards, tortoises, a dog and a cat. Having animals taught us lots of things, like how to pretend you didn't see the cat spew.

5. Crafty Weekends 

One of my favourite things growing up was my Derwent pencil set. Mum bought me a corner desk for my bedroom, where I'd sit and copy cartoons from drawing books for hours. On weekends and during school holidays, she'd do special craft projects with me. I remember standing in the laundry watching her iron my plastic bead creations until they stuck together to make 3D pictures. She'd help me rip up old newspapers for paper mache and let me put empty chip packets in the oven so they'd shrunk to make keyrings.

6. Free-range Kid

Mum encouraged innovative thinking from a young age. I was forever dreaming up ways to earn money from our neighbours. After school I'd scoot over to a house where three girls lived; we were all close in age and similarly savvy. We knocked on all doors within about a kilometre radius of my house, asking home owners if they had any odd jobs. We made dog sitting pamphlets, set up lemonade stands and even transformed my old cubby house into a "casino." Mum was far from today's description of a "helicopter parent." As long as we were home before sun down, we were free to bother the neighbours as we pleased.  

7. Mum's Taxi 

For Year 11 and 12 I went to school in Brighton, which was an eighty minute commute from home. Both morning and evening, Mum would drop me at Frankston Station so I didn't have to catch the bus which wound all over Lakewood. Each day, I'd wait for Mum in the carpark at the "back of the station;" It was where all the drugies hung out. If she was more than a few minutes late, I'd call her and demand to know where she was. If it was cold or there were sketchy looking people around, I'd tell her to "hurry up." On Saturdays I worked as a receptionist in Mornington, a 40-minute drive in the opposite direction to school. After dropping me off, she'd go back home, make brunch, clean the house and prepare dinner so she could get cooking as soon as she got back from collecting me. 

8. Mum's Pet Boarding

When our family dog Buddy died, Mum said no to getting a replacement puppy. When I begged, she'd say, "you can buy a dog the day you move out". So I did. I bought a chihuahua around my 18th birthday. Two years later, I enrolled at uni and asked Mum if I could move back home to save on rent. She begrudgingly agreed, knowing as if it were fate, she'd become feeder, groomer and poo picker-upper in a few short weeks.

9. 1300 MUM-ON-CALL 

Whenever I'm feeling anxious and need assurance, I call Mum. When I was 23, I went on a 6-week trip around Europe. I arrived in Barcelona with nothing more than a backpack and two nights' accomodation booked. Less than 12 hours into my independent journey, I became completely overwhelmed. I remember sobbing in the hostel's WIFI lounge while waiting for Mum to answer my call. She sternly told me to get out of the hostel and go exploring in the fresh air. Hours later I met a gorgeous local who showed me the sights and revitalised my mindset. 

10. Home, Sweet Home

Without fail, each time I return to Melbourne, Mum invites me around for dinner within the first few days and makes my favourite meal. Most of the time I request a roast lamb with golden veggies and tinned peas. I've given up trying to make my potatoes crispy like hers. 

Mum and I at our favourite restaurant in New York ;)

Love ya, Mum. 

Happy Birthday!

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